USARAF chaplains traveling contact team work with DRC counterparts
By Rich Bartell, U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs
KINSHASA, The Democratic Republic of the Congo – Dealing with years of continuous conflict takes its toll on Soldiers and civilians in war-torn countries around the globe.
Recently, U.S. Army Africa chaplains fulfilled a request made by the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s chief of chaplains during a week-long training in Kinshasa.
French is the official language in the DRC and the military is known as the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo or FARDC. The training was conducted in English and translated into French.
A two-man traveling contact team or TCT, consisting of USARAF chaplains Col. Jonathan McGraw and Lt. Col. Scott Hammond conducted ethics training for 50 FARDC chaplains, a few of whom traveled from distant areas in the DRC; some flying for more than 1,400 miles to attend the seminar.
U. S. Army Col. Lee Whiteside, a defense attaché at the Embassy in Kinshasa, was instrumental in coordinating the TCT training for the FARDC chaplains, Hammond said.
The DRC has suffered from almost constant warfare since the mid 1990s. According AlerNet, more than 5 million lives have been lost since then. The conflict is the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. A majority of deaths are non-combat related illness such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition.
The DRC occupies a large land mass in central Africa; is the second largest country on the continent in area and the 11th largest in the world. DRC geography is vast and diverse by any nation’s standards.
According to McGraw, the training had three main areas of focus: preventing sexual assault as a weapon of war; building more positive relation between civilians and FARDC soldiers and prevention of looting and pillaging of civilian property.
“We gave a week-long seminar on chaplain advising the commander, Army ethics and the ethical decision making model. Our intent is training the trainer. Chaplains will return to their units and provide commanders with advice on training soldiers in the area of respecting civilian human rights and the law and morals of land warfare,” McGraw said. “The focus of this week's training was the role of the chaplain as a staff officer and ethical decision making. Much of our training material was developed in cooperation with the Center for Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE) at West Point.”
Three chaplain church affiliations were represented during the TCT training; Protestant, Catholic, and Kimbanguiste, a branch of Christianity founded in the DRC.
McGraw remarked on the significance of the ethics training.
“Commitment of the FARDC leadership is evident. They want to encourage ethical and moral choices on the battlefield. With 50 total chaplains and three who are currently serving in the east where there is continuing conflict and combat, is an example of that commitment,” McGraw said.
“Conflict has flared up in Goma, which is in the eastern section of the country. It’s a serious situation and possibly the most significant national security challenge to the DRC,” McGraw said.
Chief chaplain for the Kimbanguiste, Reverend Lt. Col. Celestin Kasombo Tshinyme said the training was useful and explained some of the complexities of military ministry on the battlefield. He described the chaplain’s role.
“As a staff officer, a chaplain is an advisor to the commander. Chaplains also ensure the troops have good morale and ethics. This seminar comes during a time of war when soldiers are in particular need of chaplain’s support. Seminars like the ones our American partners have provided build capacity for the DRC commander and we would like to continue our partnerships for similar training in the future,” Tshinyme said.
Reverend Lt. Col. Aaron Shemusobyo Kubut traveled more than 1,400 miles from the eastern region of the DRC to attend the TCT seminar. He commended McGraw’s and Hammond’s training content.
“We were most impressed by the four step processing model chaplains can use to advise a commander. When I return to Gomo, I will gather all my fellow chaplains and teach them everything that I have learned in my training here with the USARAF chaplains,” Kubut said.
He added, “We have challenges assisting wartime commanders. Sometimes just finding transportation to reach the troops in the field is difficult.”
“From the training we have gathered some excellent methods for ethical decision making and we hope that sharing our experiences with the U.S. trainers has been beneficial to them as well,” Kubut said.
Reverend Maj. Pierre Ntumwa Basima is a chaplain serving in the east and conducting innovative training with the goal of preventing sexual violence.
“We are facing many foreign fighters that use sexual violence as a form of warfare. Some are HIV positive. One of the most important aspects of this training that is reinforces our adherence to the Geneva convention and for FARDC soldiers, it is important to protect our civilian population, especially women,” Basima said.
Catholic chaplain Reverend Lt. Col. Francoise Gbi Ase Kazongo said the TCT training would inspire him to highlight observance of human rights in his ministry messages.
“For me, most significant feature of the training is emphasizing the importance of human rights. I will ensure that I stress this in all my messages,” Kazongo said.